New art exhibit pays tribute to Massachusetts’s iconic symbols


“As a lifelong New Englander, this place is my muse.”

The “Heart of MA” exhibit will be up at the State House from April 4 to April 28. Hollis Machala

A new art exhibit at the Massachusetts State House has a unique, personal twist to it that is bound to warm the hearts of Bay Staters everywhere. 

The art collection, available for viewing in the State House lobby starting April 4, consists of 26 paintings that all resemble an emblem of the state and has puddingstone — the official state rock  — physically incorporated into it.

Hollis Machala, the artist behind the paintings dubbed the “Heart of MA,” said she wants the exhibit to inspire Mass. residents to celebrate and appreciate the state they live in. 

“As a lifelong New Englander, this place is my muse,” Machala said. “I love putting a new twist on old favorites that celebrate our home, like moose, local birds, iconic area foods and desserts, and portraits of notable New Englanders.”

The inspiration behind the collection

Machala was sitting in her favorite place — among the puddingstone garden outside her art studio — when she was inspired to undertake the project.

“For years, I had made the connection that there was a Massachusetts stone,” Machala said. “But suddenly, I wanted to pay homage to my own state and really celebrate where I was from, because I had finally decided I wanted to stay here.”

Machala said she traveled a lot throughout her life and has long been fascinated by icons and emblems of other states. But she wanted to celebrate Massachusetts first.

“I’m passionate about the icons that make up the core of each state but I wanted to start with my home state,” she said. “There are colorful cultures and stories in these historic icons — some fact and some fiction.”

What is puddingstone?

Puddingstone has been the official state rock of Massachusetts since 1983. The stone — also known as Roxbury Conglomerate — is a sedimentary rock that formed millions of years ago when silt was compressed with rocks and pebbles embedded between. 

The name “puddingstone” originates from an 1830s poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes about children of giants who had a food fight with pudding. 

Many historic buildings in Boston — such as the Old South Church and Cathedral of the Holy Cross — have been constructed using the material.

“The stone has been a part of Massachusetts culture for 200 years,” Machala said. “All these little nooks and little stories or myths that we put into the culture, I think, is fascinating.”

Each painting, besides incorporating the stone, also features its own state emblem. One painting, for example, depicts hero of the American Revolution Deborah Sampson, while another features a right whale, the state’s official marine mammal.

“It took a couple years to research every symbol I was going to use and plan out where it was going to go and how it was going to look, and then at the end, it’s kind of just a wild expression,” Machala said. 

Collection will be on exhibit for the next month

The paintings will be on exhibit in the State House Senate lobby until April 28 and will be available for public viewing whenever the building is open.

During her research, Machala said she discovered 30 more official symbols of the state she wants to paint. The 26 works in this exhibit took her about half a year to complete, she said, because of their large size. 

For now, Machala said she hopes local residents are able to come out and appreciate the display’s tribute to Massachusetts.

“I’m honored to be able to share this collection of paintings that celebrates the place I call home,” Machala said. “It will be especially fantastic to see them in the very place they were passed into law.”

Hollis Machala

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